My maiden name is Joseph. Today I happily answer to ‘Mrs. Strachan’, but I was born Joseph. It’s who I am.
Here in The Bahamas, Joseph is a foreign name, primarily a Haitian name, a name synonymous with poverty, mis-matched clothing and unfamiliar language.
My earliest memories of understanding my name and the stigma that went with it, go back to elementary school. The school shared an historic wall with a shanty town of mostly poor illegal Haitian migrants, a group that suffers much discrimination in my country. Collins Wall was so high that you couldn’t actually climb it or see over the top, but we all knew that on the other side of that wall was a different world, a world we didn’t understand.
Because of my name, kids loved to tease me. “Go back over the wall,” they’d say. “Carry ya Haitian se’f,” they’d laugh.
I used to explain that I was not Haitian, that my mother nor my father were Haitian, and none of my grandparents were Haitian, I did not want to be associated with people who were so different from me, people that drew negative attention and jeers.
I did not want to be Haitian because it would associate me with things that were not true about me. I was too young to know that the things that were true about a few people were not truths about an entire nation of people. I was too young to know that differences often stem from places and circumstances long ago, places and circumstances that are far beyond our control. Poverty, coupled with being an alien, meant that these people stood out for negative reasons instead of positive ones. I only wanted to be associated with people who were getting positive reviews.
As Christians we too sometimes distance ourselves from the name, not the name of Jesus, but the name ‘Christian’ because ‘Christians’ are getting some pretty darned negative reviews! Christians are hypocrites, adulterers, addicts, conservative, judgmental, anti-intellectual (do I need to go on?) and yes, much like the Haitians that lived on the other side of the wall at my childhood school, the descriptions make you cringe and look away, and they make you do so because they are sometimes true.
What do we do when Christians stand out for negative reasons? Lately I hear people calling themselves by all kinds of names, while stopping short of actually saying they are a Christian, and I’ve known a few Christians who renounced the name Christian while still holding on to Christ. I’m not judging those people, I seriously contemplated becoming one of them.
It is in the Book of Acts, where the first biblical use of the word ‘Christian’ is found. Scholars debate whether the word was used as an insult, coined by those who wanted to mock followers of Christ. I didn’t want to be mocked. Not for being a Joseph, and certainly not for being a Christian.
Now, I’m not referring to being mocked for being a ‘goody-goody’ church girl. There’s a special kind of ungodly pride that we Christians sometimes take in being ridiculed for our outward shows of holiness and righteousness. I’m also not talking about the mocking that precedes martyrdom; men and women who are humiliated, tortured and murdered for acknowledging Jesus. I’m talking about when you or I have to be counted among people we disagree with, don’t approve of, and in some cases, just can’t stand. I’m talking about when your cheeks grow hot and you hang your head low because you are flat out ashamed of the behaviors, words, and thinking of your fellow Christians. It feels easier, even preferable, to change your name. It feels easier to be a God-chaser, Kingdom-dweller, Jesus-lover, Spirit-seeker, anything but a Christian.
Yet this is my name. It is who I am. I am a Christian, and I am kin to all Christians all across the world, in all stages of relationship with God and man. I am kin with Christians who are babes, still holding on to carnal things like prejudice, misogyny, greed, and hypocrisy, just as I am kin to Christians who are mature examples of love, compassion and kindness. I am kin to the Christian who has fallen as well as the Christian who is getting back up. I am kin to the Christian that stands outside the abortion clinic picketing and to the one who supports gay marriages. And yes, I am sometimes embarrassed and confused by what we do, but I can’t stop being one of us.
This is my name.
My maiden name is Joseph. My family roots trace back to the island of St. Lucia, and that’s all I know. If I could dig deeper, maybe beyond St. Lucia my roots do in fact go back to Haiti. I’ll never know, but in the end, I am still one of them. I own the name and all the things that go with it. Some Josephs are poor, some are well-off, some are uneducated, some have vast knowledge, some are funny and fun-loving, and others are brutes and rebels, some are Haitian, some are St. Lucian, some are Bahamian. Tease me if you will, but this is still my name.
There is power in the name you carry, the name you answer to. When I claim the name Christian, I am counted with the early church at Antioch in the Book of Acts. I am counted with the Apostles, the missionaries, the martyrs, the slave holders, the witch hunters and more. I am connected to the beauty and yes, the atrocities done by us, and so is God.
God never retreats from the people who are called by His name. All through scripture He took ownership of the people who He gave His name to. He was their Father, their Creator, and their friend. He gave them the nations and brought them into wealthy places. He rebuked and chastened them. He warned them and punished them, but He never withdrew His ownership. Regardless of if they were worshiping Baal and cavorting around a golden calf, as they did in the days of Moses, or if they praised his name in the streets, as they did with King David, He never changed their name, so who am I to change mine?
I am a Christian. This is my name.